“Why do you have to listen to it loudly?” my partner yelled, looking at me from the passenger seat, his face twisted into a tight knot. I didn’t respond right away as the speakers in my truck pummeled out some random metal lunacy. “I can’t hear myself think!” he pleaded.
“That’s the point!” I yelled back with a smile. He didn’t he return the grin. I then had to choose between turning the music down or sleeping in my truck. It’s a good thing I keep a pillow in the cab.
But that really is the point. Sometimes I just want to shut my mind off, and drinking a bottle of whiskey every day isn’t really an option (though I sometimes wish it were).
It’s metal that keeps me (somewhat) sane. It certainly keeps me from lighting the mall on fire, laughing manically while I pour kerosene on my head in front of a burning Abercrombie & Fitch store surrounded by screaming shoppers choking on smoke and the smell of burnt flesh.
And when I worked customer service to put myself through college, metal kept me from bringing an axe to work and lopping off the heads of all those condescending customers—laughing manically while I did it, of course.
Metal is a bastion when you lose your job and find yourself selling your plasma to buy groceries. It’s the grotto you climb into when you discover your girlfriend/boyfriend moved out, taking the computer and the dog. Metal is what you listen to right before every family christmas dinner.
It’s something my partner (who listens to nothing but jazz and classical music) will never get. Which is fine, as long as I keep a pillow in my truck.
And that’s not to say all metal is just one-dimensional pulp vomited into your ears to drown out your own depressing, strangling thoughts. On the contrary, engaging lyrics can rip you out of your own stolid perspective. Just read the lyrics to almost any Agalloch song. And the samples in “Faustian Echoes” are wonderfully though provoking.
Faust: “So, still I seek the force, the reason governing life’s flow and not just its external show.”
Mephistopheles: “The governing force? The reason? Some things cannot be known. They are beyond your reach even when shown.”
Faust: “Why should that be so?”
Mephistopheles: “They lie outside the boundaries that words can address, and man can only grasp those thoughts which language can express.”
Faust: “What? Do you mean that words are greater yet than man?”
Mephistopheles: “Indeed they are.”
Faust: “Then what of longing? Affection? Pain or grief? I can’t describe these, yet I know they are in my breast. What are they?”
Mephistopheles: “Without substance, as mist is.”
Faust: “In that case man is only air as well!”
Metal isn’t afraid to claw away at that comfortable social veneer most people saturate themselves in—to reveal the horror of an unexamined life.
So, here are a few of my favorite metal songs that explore this duality. They run the gamut from poetic music inspired by John Milton to raw animosity. Listen as loud as possible.
Dying Fetus “Second Skin” [intelligent growls]
“Gracious second skin
Courteous facade accepted
The cultured do not harm
Fitting in amongst the sheeple”
Hevein “Last Drop of Innocence” [the death of childhood with a cello and a violin]
Draconian “Expostulation / Heaven Laid in Tears” [Paradise Lost as metal]
Agalloch “Not Unlike the Waves” [astronomy as metal]